When my son was born, I had every expectation that I would leave behind me one day an industrious, kind and well-educated young man. Very few are remembered for their accomplishments, but a child will remember you if you are loving and supportive. I would be such a father, and the exact same feeling in my wife sealed our marriage like shutters.
Whatever we had to sacrifice to ensure his success, we would do, in the quiet –and to many, unreasonable—compact that parents live by. You see these signatories wearing Timex watches, buying dress shoes at a thrift shop. Daily, thousands of adult desires stream into savings.
I write of things unseen, because that describes my son, David. But before I go further about him, remember this: the most remarkable child is still one who must play, be tossed in the air, and carried home. I am so ordinary. My great comfort is that I was only needed by David to be a father.
It all became evident very quickly. He had taught himself to read, at three, within weeks, and this seemed to be related to an impetus to be able to write. As far as my wife Sarah and I could tell, and as far as they knew at his pre-school, he had not employed phonics but simply read whole. It was plain that his true interest wasn’t in letters, but numbers and he began, playfully, to multiply two-digit numbers in his head. He only wrote them down to show them to me at bedtime.
He was bored in kindergarten; the young woman teaching it allowed him to roam the shelves, memorizing the globe, and the star chart she posted (for his benefit) below which he lingered. On a whim, she brought her undergraduate Principles Of Cosmology for him to glance at. I thought the book too big a leap, when Sarah and I learned of it. We were wrong. For my son, the discovery of the Big Bang was a profound emotional relief. He had found his first genuine puzzle. And I thought my child felt an affinity for a cosmos rushing forward as unbraked as his mind.
I could not slow the spinning in his head, but I could assure myself and Sarah that the world thirsting to know his potential would not rob him of the normalcy of pizza parties, a dog, and sleepovers. Never mind that he commuted to a junior high school to learn, insatiably, geometry and physics in the third grade. I refused to allow him to take the math SAT before he was twelve, though I often lay on the grass in the backyard as my son mapped our neighborhood stars, and those below our meridian.
When I was phoned by Wesley Schumberger asking to meet David, I consented and invited him to dinner. He was perhaps the leading astrophysicist in the United States, and in an academic realm which I had read was fiercely competitive and often petty, he was of a different way, and much cherished. Schumberger had won the Nobel for his discovery of massive black holes at the center of observable galaxies, and the stunning discovery that they affected the speed of stars in a galaxy’s outer rim. Super black holes and the lives of the galaxies they fired into being, were intertwined in fate.
“David”, he said in our front hall,” I am Dr. Wesley Schumberger”, but since we are colleagues, you are welcome to call me Wesley.”
“Would you like to see my room?” David answered.
“Of course”, Schumberger answered, and they set off to see David’s model dinosaur collection and Hubble posters.
“What a charming dog”, Schumberger said at dinner, looking at our Jack Russell. “What is his name?”
“Laika”, David answered. Schumberger was startled, then recovered himself.
“Laika,” the doctor said haltingly, “was a dog sent into orbit in the early days of Soviet space flight. He did not survive.”
“I know,” David said. “I want him remembered.”
“David, if I may ask you, what puzzles you the most in your current studies?”
My wife and I served dinner.
David hesitated. “May I ask you some questions? There’s no one to ask.” I winced.
“Galaxy formation was uniform?”
“That would be my hypothesis, David, but it is unproven. Do you understand?”
“Yes. But each galaxy has within it a super massive black hole? And this black hole is central to the galaxy’s creation, and evolution?”
Wesley leaned forward. “It is exactly so, in my mind. What conclusions does this lead you to?”
“I don’t want to make a fool of myself”, my son said.
“David,” Wesley answered, “there are spacecraft, and moon craters named for ‘fools’. There is a plot on Mars named for Laika. We forget no one who dares, by enquiry, to enter the mysteries of space.”
“I have a formula I’d like to show you,” David said, and wiping his mouth, hurried to his room. He returned, and set before him a set of equations.
Schumberger looked at the lined paper, and closed his eyes for a moment. He looked at David, pointing to a letter. “This is a constant?”
“Yes,” David answered.
There was an utter, beautiful silence at our dinner table.
“The number of universes is….”
“Infinite”, David said.
“How could you have known that?” Wesley asked
“It’s the answer most generous,” David said.
“94 billion galaxies in our universe alone”, Wesley started
“Playing multiple roles”, my son continued, “originators, regulators. My beautiful engines.”
Charles Bane, Jr. is the American author of The Chapbook ( Curbside Splendor ) , Love Poems ( Aldrich Press) , and Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall ( Collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University ). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project, and is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.
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